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Young players get tips from old pro

When Jason "J.J." Kellam-Lewis' forehand volley popped over the net, his instructor shouted: "Perfect. Good technique!"

The youngster ate up the compliment with a wide smile -- especially since it came from Jim Courier, a four-time Grand Slam champion and one-time No. 1 player in the world.

Courier ran a drill clinic for Jason and 11 other kids from the Police Athletic League's Raging Racquet tennis program Thursday in HSBC Center.

HSBC Bank, a sponsor of the Wimbledon Championships, organized the clinic as part of its third annual program aimed at bringing aspects of the English tournament to fans in New York State.

"I'm grateful I got to meet him," said 8-year-old Jason after the hourlong clinic. "I'm so happy I was chosen and got a chance to learn a lot about tennis."

Courier gave the young players, ages 5 to 13, tips on volleying and hitting forehand and backhand ground strokes.

"My focus was to give them a couple of tidbits to help them with the fundamentals," he said. "And, hopefully, they'll take those tips with them to practice with the PAL program."

Julia Panepinto, 11, realized her volleying technique was off and Courier's instruction gave it the right tweaking.

"It was a good experience, and I learned a lot," she said. "It's so cool a player like him, who has gone so far in tennis, could come and teach us."

In the early 1990s, Courier won two French Open championships and two Australian Open titles, along with other tournaments.

The PAL's tennis program was chosen by HSBC because of its commitment to children and the community, which is aligned with the bank's, making it "a perfect fit," said LuAnne Kingston, senior vice president of the bank and the Western New York district executive.

The six-week "Raging Racquet" program, which is held in Delaware Park, has 48 children.

"It was a wonderful opportunity for them to see how a professional athlete gives back to the community; there were so many lessons to learn, more than just tennis," said Susan Gonzalez, executive director of the PAL.

The clinic was originally planned for the courts at Delaware Park, but the powerful downpour earlier in the afternoon forced organizers to move it indoors. It was held in the cafeteria -- transformed into a makeshift court.

Errant balls hit the wall, ceiling, spectators and even the windows, prompting many giggles.

"Since we're not outside where there would be fences but inside where there are glass windows, I don't want you to hit the ball as hard as you would normally," Courier gently suggested. "Let's go for smooth ground strokes."

Although the children played on carpet, not grass like at Wimbledon, there was still another hallowed Wimbledon tradition: Strawberries and cream were offered after the clinic.